Wednesday

8th Feb 2023

EU threatens to suspend visas from Belarus

  • Last year, the EU bought 15 surveillance drones for Belarusian authorities for 'border protection' (Photo: sudexpert.gov.by)

The European Commission may strip Belarus of visa entries for the EU, following a spike in migrant crossings into Lithuania from the country.

The comments on Monday (12 July) were made in the European Parliament by EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

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"I stand ready to consider to take actions on visa suspensions towards Belarus," she said.

The EU and Minsk signed an agreement last summer to make it easier for Belarusians to obtain short-term visas. The EU then supplied Belarus with light-surveillance drones for "border protection".

Minsk suspended the agreement last month, amid warnings they would no longer stem irregular migration into the EU.

Now Johansson is making similar threats.

She also accused Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating the migrant arrivals into Lithuania, as retaliation for EU sanctions, in the wake of Belarus' fraudulent election, and subsequent crackdown on protest.

"I must say that the situation is serious, and it's extremely important now that we show solidarity towards Lithuania" she told MEPs.

More than 1,600 people arrived from Belarus into Lithuania this year, some 22 times more than in the whole of 2020. Around 800 crossed in the first week of July alone.

There are four direct flights a week from Baghdad to Minsk, as well as daily flights from Turkey, with many apparently purchasing one-way tickets.

Iraqis, Iranians, and Syrians were among the first arrivals. Once in Minsk, they were given a visa at the airport.

Johansson said some were paying €15,000 for the entire trip, including entry into Lithuania.

"There were even cases when migrants used Uber or Bolt [ride-sharing apps] in order to ride to Vilnius," she said.

But the composition of nationalities has since shifted, with many now also arriving undocumented.

The most recent arrivals are primarily from the Republic of Congo, the Gambia, Guinea, Mali, and Senegal.

Fabrice Leggeri, the EU's border agency chief, also spoke.

He said Belarus will this week allow nationalities from 73 countries to enter, without a visa for up to five days, to get a Covid-19 vaccine shot.

"We have to monitor closely what's going to happen with this invitation to 73 nationalities," he said.

The Warsaw-based agency is deploying manpower to shore up Lithuania's land borders with Belarus.

Its first deployment includes 30 border guard officers, 14 patrol cars, and one thermal-vision vehicle.

It will now top it up with additional support, including a handful of armed officers.

The latest tension comes after Belarus hijacked a RyanAir flight, and forced it into an emergency landing, in order to kidnap opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

Protasevich was part of a wider movement railing against the fraudulent presidential elections last year.

The country now counts some 530 political prisoners, as well as numerous documented cases of torture.

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